Subscribe to Blog via Email
A dance of expressions, gestures, and mysteries generate emotional magic across the Main Gallery walls at the Griffin Museum of Photography’s 22nd Juried Show: The Peter Urban Legacy Exhibition, on exhibit through August 28, 2016. Juror Elizabeth Avedon extricated just about 60 works from 2000 submissions to produce a remarkably cohesive show. It strikes me as highly unusual for an open call competition with only one piece displayed per artist to have such a compelling concentration of emotional impact. And isn’t that the nib of it: that elusive, intangible, all-important emotional connection that elevates an image from picture to transformative art?
Whether portraiture, street photography or landscape, I found the photographs in this exhibit pulled hard on emotional strings, calling up universal themes of very personal searches – for identity, joy, dignity, a sense of place and belonging. In her awards, Avedon has acknowledged the extreme difficulty of expressing internal toil with subtlety in a medium as realistic as photography.
The yearning to find oneself looms large in Lissa Rivera’s Peter Urban Legacy Award-winning “Motel” from her series examining the uncertainty, striving and fear of her partner’s journey toward gender identity. Jennifer McClure’s Arthur Griffin Legacy Award-winning photograph from her series Laws of Silence depicts a staggering struggle for self-worth that draws affecting power from its clandestine and shadowy anonymity.
The challenge of discovering a comfort zone that balances one’s individuality with the desire to find community is imbedded in the searing expressions of “Brothers”, Rebecca Biddle Moseman’s tension- and love-filled B&W Griffin Award-winning photograph (feature image). Ashly Leonard Stohl expresses the symbolism of being a “little guy in a big world…constantly frustrated by how little power he has…(and invoking) Jedi powers to get what he wants” in the bittersweet B&W photograph of her youngest son standing at the bottom of a nearly empty swimming pool. In contrast, Ruben Natal-San Miguel throws down a colorfully ebullient expression of self- and group-identity in his bold and sassy “Barbie”.
I noticed an almost complete absence of mixed media or digital post-production bonanzas, signaling a celebration of the purity of the photographic form. This adds subliminally to the feeling of cohesiveness, regardless of subject matter. Moreover, the images share a nuanced layering of emotions, whether the methods employed by the artist were simple or complex. This quality is amply expressed in portraits like the elegantly spare “Woman” by Amanda James, the allegorically reflective “Untitled 3 (Mask)” by Ralph Mercer, the gestural psychodrama of “Davey, A Crazed Girl” by Sandra Chen Weinstein, and the brave, forlorn “Kamila Mohamud Noor” photographed by Selma Fernandez Richter.
The photographs that don’t focus on people stir equally strong emotions. An alluring, secretive undercurrent pervades the exhibit’s nighttime photographs, like Camilo Ramirez’ seductively mysterious “Arabian Horse and Trailer”, Nicholas Fedak’s colorful, buzzing tribute to memory and decay in “Film Noir”, and Suzy Halpin’s tastefully surreptitious and deliciously voyeuristic “The Window”.
Empty rooms, halls and even landscapes echo with the sentiments of missing inhabitants. A bleak, filtered sun and tranquil, vaporous atmosphere make time stand still in Susan May Tell’s magnetic “Appalachian Mist” (at top of post). Tiny bugs rise like phoenixes over the threatened Florida wetlands, catching the sun to form a veil of light in Lynne Buchanan’s breathtaking “Midges Ascending”. A dazzling midday sun, inquisitive wagging tail and precise fencing delineate the visual and symbolic “yours, mine and ours” of neighbors in Bill Franson’s witty “West Brighton, Staten Island”. An unnerving electronic eye carefully records activity in Sheri Lynn Behr’s gritty and foreboding “Watching You”.
The exhibit’s sophisticated multiculturalism – whether geographic, ethnic, economic or sexual – is in keeping with the overall tone of the show and reinforces its emotional intelligence and impact. This is evident in documentary pieces like Anja Bruehling’s “Brick Workers”, depicting both the burden and dignity of hard labor and Yvette Meltzer’s “Atlanta Memoir”, projecting the golden glow of childhood hopes and dreams, as well as in more psychological work like Jung S. Kim’s “The Origin of Unconsciousness” which plumbs ethnic influences, Guanyu Xu’s “Sea”, a visual analogy of the hope and apathy of a gay Asian immigrant to the United States, Francis Crisafio’s poignant urban narrative on forging Black identity in America, and Joan Lobis Brown’s reflection on the emotional isolation of an aging cancer survivor.
The ebb, flow and occasional eruption of emotions in this gathering of images is like a contemporary, abridged version of Edward Steichen’s iconic “The Family of Man”. I come away with a similar impression that, no matter what the vast and variable experience of humanity, we share a common beating heart, one that resonates with recognizable joys and sorrows – softly, insistently, urgently. I want to see this show again. Individually, there is so much to take in and, collectively, it is gratifying to experience such compelling relevancy in contemporary photography. Juror Elizabeth Avedon went deep into the human psyche in her choices, providing viewers with an exhilarating collection of expressive force. I second that emotion.
For hours, directions and more information, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/griffin-main-gallery/
To see this exhibit online and/or order the exhibition catalog, go to: http://www.griffinmuseum.org/blog/product/22nd-juried-show-the-peter-urban-legacy-exhibition/
Feature Image: “Brothers, 2016” by Rebecca Biddle Moseman, winner of The Griffin Award, 2016 Griffin Museum of Photography Annual Juried Show, juried by Elizabeth Avedon (courtesy of the artist).